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The word mythologia (the study of stories) was created c. 400 BC by the classical Greek philosopher Plato. Myths are heroic tales about gods, goddesses, demi-gods, men and animals, based on folk tradition rather than fact and concerned with universal human situations and emotions: courage, transformation, war, jealousy and love.

Mythological stories from ancient Greece and Rome informed much of Western art and ideas from the Renaissance (1400s) onwards. They allowed artists and their patrons to express things which lay outside the teachings of the Christian faith: a King, for example, could claim to be as glorious as the god Apollo without offending the true God. In this display these myths are re-told through paintings, sculpture, tapestry, miniatures, drawing, furniture and, of course, books.

Though originally folk stories, these myths also formed the bases for the greatest works of Greek and Roman literature, which have inspired artists (and writers) ever since. The most relevant written accounts are:

Greek ~ Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey (c. ninth century BC).

Latin ~ Virgil, The Aeneid (29-19 BC); Ovid, Metamorphoses (eighth century AD); Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass (second century BC);

Renaissance Italian - Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron (1349-52 AD) and De mulieribus claris (About Famous Women), (1361 AD).


Obverse: a sard cameo representing a bearded male head, in profile to the right; with surrounding open scrollwork frame set with seven table-cut diamonds and two rubies and incorporating: to the left, a reclining figure of Cupid; to the right, Apollo with
Gems and Jewels

The use of mythological subjects in cameos and intaglios

Oval gold and enamel snuff box, the hinged cover mounted with an oval enamel plaque, painted with a scene of Mars and Venus with the infant Cupid. The box with a blue guilloché enamel ground, divided by chased gold borders. 
The tale
Snuff and sweet boxes

Decoration of boxes with Mythological scenes

The subject comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses and tells of the nymph, Syrinx's flight from the lustful Pan; at last she reaches the river Ladon and has to be turned into a reed to save herself. Pan here embraces reeds instead of flesh; he subsequently makes
Love, loss and transformation

Depictions of mythological stories of love and loss

A bronze group of Thetis, partly draped and wearing sandals, her hand to her head, crouched in a large scallop shell, and carrying the newly-created armour of Achilles (sword, helmet, cuirass and greaves); the shell is borne by a double-tailed triton risi
Gods, Heroes and Villains

Representations of Gods and Villains

The ageing Elizabeth is idealised as 'Astraea', the goddess described in Virgil's Fourth Eclogue as presiding over the classical golden age. Artists and poets, such as Edmund Spenser, linked Astraea's qualities of eternal youth and justice with Elizabeth
Dressing up

Portraying people as mythological figures

A giltwood and white painted side chair, the rectangular back with an oval-framed bow and arrow splat carved with a wreath of flowers; rectangular uprights bound with carved ribbon. Some areas painted white. Square reeded legs. Upholstered in green s
Allegories and symbols

The use of mythological symbols in objects

Ovid's Metamorphoses has remained one of the most recognisable works of mythology since it was written two thousand years ago. It is a comprehensive collection of stories from Roman mythology, many of them adapted from Greek originals, from the creation o

Books with mythological subjects

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.